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Young v. National-Louis University

August 31, 2010

MICHAEL K. YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL-LOUIS UNIVERSITY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case comes before the court on the motion of Defendant National-Louis University ("NLU") for summary judgment on all claims asserted by Plaintiff Michael Young ("Young") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons stated below, the motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

As a preliminary matter, NLU contends that we should ignore many of Young's statements of fact because they are not in compliance with the Local Rules governing summary judgment motions. On March 30, 2010, the court provided Young with a Local Rule 56.2 statement advising him of the required procedures for answering NLU's motion in accordance with Local Rule 56.1. Despite this notice, many of Young's answers deny the proposed fact without citing to a supporting portion of the record, contradict Young's own deposition testimony, or contain argumentative commentary. Additionally, many of Young's supplemental statements of fact do not conform to the requirements of Rule 56.1: some statements are devoid of citations to the record while others cite to portions of the record that do not support the fact asserted. While courts must construe pro se pleadings liberally, Young's unrepresented status does not absolve him from compliance with Local Rule 56.1. See Greer v. Bd. of Ed. of City of Chicago, 267 F.3d 723, 727 (7th Cir. 2001). A district court may strictly enforce its own local rules with respect to summary judgment motions by considering as admitted all statements uncontroverted by the opposing party. Patterson v. Ind. Newspapers, Inc., 589 F.3d 357, 360 (7th Cir. 2009). Therefore, we will confine our presentation of the relevant background to NLU's uncontradicted facts as well as any additional statements submitted by Young that conform to Local Rule 56.1.

National-Louis University is located in Chicago, Illinois. NLU initially hired Michael Young, an African-American male, as a security officer on March 10, 2003. Though NLU later eliminated Young's campus security guard position, former NLU President Richard Pappas ("Pappas") nevertheless decided to retain Young as an assistant campus services manager for NLU's Chicago campus. As a campus facilities employee, Young assisted university personnel and faculty with setting up classrooms. His primary responsibility was to input faculty members' requests for classroom equipment into NLU's computer system. Initially, Young's supervisors noted that he performed adequately in his new job -- Associate Director of Facilities Dick Sterett ("Sterett") noted that Young met the basic expectations of his duties in his 2006-2007 performance review.

During his time at the Chicago campus, Young had an oftentimes contentious relationship with NLU professor Thomas Slawson ("Slawson"). From May 15 to May 18, 2007, Slawson emailed Young several times to request his assistance in scheduling a room and procuring some media equipment for classes he would be teaching. After Slawson expressed frustration with the manner in which Young handled his request, Young met with his supervisor Sterett to discuss the situation. Sterett instructed Young not to respond verbally or by email to any criticism of his work performance and to report all complaints about staff or faculty to management for resolution. Young responded that he did not agree with Sterett's instructions and refused to follow his directions.

Finding his superiors' response to the Slawson problem inadequate, Young decided to take a different approach. On May 22, after receiving another complaint from Slawson via email, Young sent an email directly to Slawson in which he stated "[i]t's been said: 'that a lie can travel half way around the earth, before the truth can put it[s] shoes on' Mr. Slawson[.]" Later that day, Sterett again met with Young to remind him of the proper procedure for responding to faculty complaints. Sterett told Young not to send emails to NLU employees who complained about the manner in which he performed his duties.

Three days later, on May 25, Young sent an email discussing his various interactions with Slawson to NLU President Pappas, Human Resources employee Erin Haulotte ("Haulotte"), NLU's Executive Director of Legal Affairs McCeil Johnson ("Johnson"), and various other administrators. The same day, Johnson informed Young that NLU's President had asked her to work directly with Young to resolve the situation. To that end, Johnson requested that Young submit a confidential written narrative describing his encounters with Slawson and arranged to meet with Young the following week. In his report to Johnson, Young stated that his supervisors' unsatisfactory approach to the Slawson issue was the product of racial discrimination. Johnson later met with Young and requested that he inform her of any future exchanges between him and Slawson. She also told Young that he could call the police if he felt threatened by Slawson in the future. On June 1, Young wrote Johnson to inform her that he had encountered Slawson on campus and had exchanged a peaceful greeting with him. Johnson then concluded her investigation of Young's complaint.

Another incident involving Young and Slawson occurred on July 18, 2007. That day, Slawson showed up in Young's office twice to complain that audiovisual equipment he requested had not been placed in his classroom. During this encounter, Slawson stood over a seated Young and yelled at him. Once Slawson had left the office, Young called the police. After the incident, Haulotte instructed Young that he should have no more direct contact with Slawson and gave him a phone number to call if another encounter occurred. Haulotte also told Young that Slawson had been instructed to limit his conversations with him and to address any other equipment problems with Young's supervisor. Additionally, Haulotte disciplined Slawson for his conduct toward Young soon after the July 18 incident but did not inform Young about the action taken until February or March 2008.

Young had two more encounters with Slawson in August 2007 and March 2008. On August 8, 2007, Slawson returned to Young's office for the last time to inquire about an equipment request. After briefly discussing the equipment issue with Slawson, Young sent an email to Johnson and Haulotte complaining that Slawson's request constituted racial harassment. On March 18, 2008, the two men briefly spoke on the phone. Young had no further contact with Slawson after that date.

Young also had interpersonal issues with other NLU employees including his supervisors. On July 31, 2007, Young met with NLU's Vice President of Human Resources, Tom Bergmann ("Bergmann") and NLU's Vice President of Operations, Bill Roberts ("Roberts"), to discuss the University's Policy on Acceptable Use of NLU Information Technology. Bergmann and Roberts asked to meet with Young to discuss the religious overtones of his campus-wide communications. Prior to the meeting, Johnson provided Young with a copy of the Policy and a memorandum stating that he was welcome to use NLU IT systems for business purposes so long as he conformed his conduct to the Policy. Johnson also notified Young that "failure to comply with the NLU Policy on Acceptable Use of NLU Information Technology will result in disciplinary action up to and including possible termination of employment." Young reviewed the policy before attending the meeting.

At some point during the meeting, Young walked out in spite of Roberts' request that he remain. As a result of this unauthorized departure, Young received a final disciplinary write-up for insubordination on August 2 and was notified that his insubordinate behavior must cease. Though Young had never received a disciplinary letter before this incident, this was not the first time that Young had acted in a defiant manner at NLU: the write-up also referenced a previous incident of insubordination in May 2007 when Young refused to participate in a training session. Young submitted a rebuttal to the final written warning to NLU Human Resources on August 6. Haulotte informed Young that she had reviewed the rebuttal and placed it in Young's personnel file; she also reiterated that "future occurrences of similar behavior may result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination." On August 9, Roberts sent an email to Young in which he confirmed that future violations of NLU's IT policy "could result in further disciplinary action up to and including termination." Young attributed his reprimand to some form of racial animus on the part of his supervisors. On September 11, 2007, he filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") alleging that NLU's disciplinary action constituted racial discrimination and retaliation.

Young also questioned his supervisors' motivations with respect to their response to his complaints about conditions in his office. On May 26, 2007, a flood occurred on the sixth floor of NLU's Chicago campus. The damage was extensive on the sixth and fifth floors of the building but the third floor on which Young's office was located suffered only minor damages. Despite the limited damage, Young and student employees who shared the same office space in Suite 3114 complained to NLU about the state of their office. After receiving the complaints, Johnson toured Suite 3114. She directed NLU staff to remove a dehumidifier and a garbage can full of stagnant water from the office. She also requested that an environmental mold sampling of Suite 3114 be conducted by Carnow, Conibear & Associates, Ltd. ("CCA") on July 11. CCA found that the levels of mold spores were not affecting the indoor air quality of Suite 3114 in any significant way.

NLU eventually decided to perform repairs on Young's office. On August 16, Roberts notified Young and the rest of the employees in his office that they would be relocated while flood-related repairs were completed. Roberts decided to move Young, his brother Patrick (who also worked in campus services at NLU), and some student workers to a room on the fifth floor. Because the room on the fifth floor only had enough outlets and phone ...


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